/ Remember (walkin’ in the sand), Red Bird, 1964
I’ve never been a big fan of the wall of sound. Phil Spector, the Ronettes, Righteous Brothers, Joe Meek, Johnny Ray, and, in another age, the Associates. It all owes too much to melodrama; there’s a lack of space which is suffocating, constricting, over-fertilised, and at this distance, it smacks of kitsch. (An exception is the Walker Brothers, whose orchestral and melodic sophistication matches the faux siblings’ studied cool and doomed romantic asides.) So it is with the Shangri-Las’ ‘Remember (walkin’ in the sand)’, written and produced by George ‘Shadow’ Morton. Its tidal wave of sound does break down for whispered moments against a backdrop of squalling seagulls, a use of effects preceding the Beatles’ experimental phase, but its fate in my mind is sealed by the rumoured presence on the recording of a young piano player named Billy Joel.
The B side is much more exciting, much less stifling. It sounds like it got recorded rather than produced, that time was limited in what was already a time-limited, production line environment. Rudimentally mixed together are squiggling organ, a rough pre-garage guitar, drums punching out a raw and seemingly under-practiced beat, and the voices of the Weiss sisters and Ganser twins clear against this spacious racket, not lost in one of Shadow’s ornately constructed edifices.
I’m no sound engineer, but this record – at least my scratchy, fucked-up copy of it – is surely conclusive proof of the superior dynamics of vinyl as compared with later formats, whose advantage in terms of quality and clarity isn’t questionable. But listen to the sound of the rising notes of the chorus of ‘It’s easier to cry’ tearing like paper; it seems to capture the hair-rising spirit of the recording at the instant it was performed. What does this sound like on a CD? Or as an mp3? I’m not sure I want to know (but if a charity shop never yields the 7 inch, and CD is the only option, you’ll find it on the exquisitely named Myrmidons of Melodrama compilation). I presume the dynamic has to do with the physical nature of tempered metal tracking its way through scored plastic, though I’m sure there’s a more properly scientific explanation.
The swooping tails of the soaring harmonies of ‘It’s easier to cry’ are abruptly closed with melodic exclamation marks, and the listener revels in the mismatch between the short sharp electric crackle of the music and the wallowing lyric, which in contrast to the Undertones’ ‘One way love’, tells of the bittersweet pain to be had in stringing out a broken romance.
Take this version of the Shangri-Las, mix in a little Talulah Gosh, add something definitively 21st century and I think you arrive at the Pipettes. I doubt they will be the last to revive the model of pop perfection that was accidentally arrived at with the recording of ‘It’s easier to cry’.